The One Thing Continuing to Rob My Focus
Earlier this month, David Sparks, of MacSparky fame, wrote an article outlining a number of ways to help retain or regain focus. Focus has been such a strong buzzword in the productivity space the last few years, and rightfully so. In a world full of distraction, infinite inputs, and instantaneous information divulgence, there’s a ton that can draw your focus.
There’s one item I saw missing from David’s list, and, frankly, from every other “do these things to focus” list out there I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because it’s relevant only to me, or maybe we haven’t gone deep enough into the roots of what truly distracts us.
If you follow my productivity journal, or read my recent post about the Apple Watch, you may catch that distractions cause me anxiety. Actually, it’s not even the distraction itself, its the possibility of the distraction.
Someone might say the solution is to remove the possibility to remove the anxiety. This is the approach I’ve taken, and it’s been mostly effective. Yet I’ve noticed this does not keep me from getting in cycles of distractibility where I will find myself seeking out distraction. Those days, I mindlessly check Twitter, my favorite news sites, and fiddle with my productivity tools until the cows come home. I’m procrastinating (obviously). While I can usually catch myself and get back on task, it does not solve the problem, as I keep wanting to distract myself throughout the day.
Emotional health is something very important to me. In fact, I believe if we all learned to manage our emotions and take care of ourselves better, the world would be a significantly better place. We’d have less jockeying for position, fewer people abusing or lording over others, and healthier families, friendships, workplaces, and communities.
On to my deeper focus issue. I found on these days where my focus was near impossible to keep, I was emotionally overwhelmed. I either experienced something negative in the last 24-48 hours, felt stressed or worried about a particular situation, or, frankly, just didn’t get enough sleep and my emotional self-control capacity was at an all time low.
How do you know if you’re emotionally overwhelmed? I think there are different signs for each person. For me, I tend to get a slight feeling of discomfort in the middle of my abdomen, a buzzing sensation in my head, and a sensitivity to any personal feedback.
In reality, the problem is I’m trying to avoid the negative emotions and “self-medicate” by trying to find something pleasurable. When I recognize I’m emotionally overwhelmed, there are a few strategies I’ve started to use effectively to break through the fog and distraction to actually discover and deal with the problem.
- Journal - Journaling can take as long as you want. I usually sit down with a pen and paper and start writing in a stream-of-consciousness mode until I feel I’m getting to the cause of my emotions.
- Talk it out - Talking uses the same strategy as journaling, but when I’m in need of my spouse or a friend to help gain clarity.
- Find the feeling words - The more descriptive I can get of my feelings, the easier it is to process them.
- Sleep - If you’re tired, sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is take a nap. Then try again after you rest a bit.
- Go for a walk - Sometimes getting out in nature helps me emotionally/mentally reset.
Once I feel like I have a handle on what the issue is, there are two very important things I need to do.
- Feel the pain - The best thing I can do when I’m feeling pain is… feel it. Don’t hide, try to cover it up, or ignore it. Embrace it.
- Let myself cry if I need it - Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with crying. In fact, it’s one of the fastest, most effective ways to deal with negative emotions. If I let myself feel the pain, crying helps me move through it.
- Forgive - If someone hurt me, saying, “I forgive them,” out loud literally lifts weight off my shoulders emotionally. It’s powerful.
- Move on - The worst thing to do is get stuck in a negative emotional loop. Let it go when you’re done and move on, but don’t be afraid to repeat the process if the feeling comes up again.
Emotions are not always easy to process, but, in my experience, unprocessed emotions have been one of the largest roadblocks to my ability to keep focus on what matters to me. Taking the extra time to dig into what I’m feeling allows me to be more agile, focused, and effective in my everyday life. Maybe it’s a little too mushy for the productivity space, but I know doing these things has helped me focus better in general.